, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 87–99 | Cite as

Salt Marsh Carbon Pool Distribution in a Mid-Atlantic Lagoon, USA: Sea Level Rise Implications

  • Tracy Elsey-QuirkEmail author
  • Denise M. Seliskar
  • Christopher K. Sommerfield
  • John L. Gallagher


The distribution of carbon (C) within a salt marsh may vary among vegetation zones depending on production and decomposition dynamics and organic and mineral depositional history. We examined spatial and temporal variation of plant and soil C pools within a salt marsh fringing a coastal lagoon along the mid-Atlantic coast of the U.S. The total plant C pool increased from high marsh shrub to low marsh grass dominated areas. Much of the spatial variation in plant C pool was due to fine roots and small organic matter (dlm) that could not be identified by species, which averaged 2398 g C m−2 in Spartina patens-dominated, 2215 g C m−2 in Spartina alterniflora-dominated, and 676 g C m−2 in Juncus roemerianus-dominated areas. Belowground C pool loss was 36% less for S. patens than S. alterniflora and was similar between S. alterniflora and J. roemerianus. Accretion and C accumulation rates were greater in the S. alterniflora-dominated stand than in the J. roemerianus-dominated stand. Our results suggest that landward migration onto terrestrial soils can lead to an estimated 80% increase in belowground plant C composed primarily of fine roots and dlm and 36–70% increase in soil carbon between 15 and 30 cm depths.


Baccharis halimifolia Biomass Decomposition Juncus roemerianus Organic matter Spartina alterniflora Spartina patens 



This research was funded by the University of Delaware Sea Grant and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sea Grant College (Seagrant # NA05OAR4171041). The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the· National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the Department of Commerce. We would like to thank many volunteers that helped collect and process plant material including: J. Halchak, W. T. Quirk, M. League, J. Wang, K. Higashikubo, D. Brady, M. Rhode, B. Ciotti, M. Tatinclaux, I. Ngirairikl, M. Jennis, C. Shelley, L. Krimsky, and J. Perelli. S. Moskalski, and D. G. Stuart helped to collect and process cores for 137Cs analysis. We appreciate the thorough and helpful reviews from three anonymous reviewers and associate editor.


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Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tracy Elsey-Quirk
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Denise M. Seliskar
    • 2
  • Christopher K. Sommerfield
    • 2
  • John L. Gallagher
    • 2
  1. 1.Patrick Center for Environmental ResearchAcademy of Natural Sciences PhiladelphiaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.School of Marine Science and PolicyUniversity of DelawareLewesUSA

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